The Famous and the Fairy Tale

Take classic stories like 'Little Red Riding Hood' and 'The Frog Prince,' add lots of celebrities and their imaginative reworkings, and you've got a book and CD that will help sick children.

Focus On Books

October 28, 2001|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,Sun Staff

When Steven Spielberg calls, Hollywood answers, especially when it's for a good cause. So when the legendary movie director asked Gwyneth Paltrow, Whoopi Goldberg and nearly 20 other celebrities to re-write four classic children's stories, they said yes. The result, Once Upon a Fairy Tale (Viking, $30), is a quirky take on old favorites that is visually captivating, thanks to 21 renowned children's book illustrators -- and easy on the ears, thanks to a CD that comes with the book.

Royalties from the project will go to the STARBRIGHT Foundation. Since 1991, Spielberg has been the chairman of this national organization, which specializes in providing videos, CD-ROMs and computer programs to seriously ill children.

"He's a visionary," says Nancy Hayes, chief executive officer of the Los Angeles-based nonprofit. "He understands and relates to children." Spielberg has captivated kids with E.T., Who Framed Roger Rabbit and, most recently, the wildly popular Shrek.

Stars inject Little Red Riding Hood, Rumplestiltskin, The Frog Prince and Goldilocks and the Three Bears with their own brand of humor, tweaking the well-loved tales so that they resemble modern-day sitcoms. (Not exactly a stretch with Ally McBeal's Calista Flockhart, Frasier's Kelsey Grammer and Friends' Lisa Kudrow on board.) Each person took on a different role within one of the four stories and wrote a scene with that character, which they re-enacted on the CD.

This is STARBRIGHT's second such project with a cast of well-knowns and a children's book. Three years ago they issued a version of The Emperor's New Clothes featuring Madonna and Calvin Klein.

"Celebrities have a broad general appeal," says Hayes. "When they're associated with a project, it increases interest and visibility."

Actor Jeff Goldblum subs for Spielberg on the CD. "Steven is not an actor; he doesn't feel he was able to bring character to life," says Hayes. "He likes to be behind the camera, the director." Naturally.

Below are descriptions of the updated stories, followed by excerpts from each.

'Little Red Riding Hood'

Little Red (Lisa Kudrow) is a near-sighted girl too cool to wear her glasses, leading to a disastrous series of events in the woods, culminating in a big bad wolf (Robin Williams) eating her Granny (Oprah Winfrey) and nearly her, were it not for a big outdoorsy hunter-type (Bruce Willis) who saves the day.

Character of Alberta Louise Johnson (Granny)

written by Oprah Winfrey

"I just couldn't help thinking I'd spent my entire life trying to eat healthy and do the right things, only to find myself feeling poorly and being eaten by a wolf! What was that all about?! But my thoughts and worries quickly returned to Red. The wolf had already eaten me, and although I was just a nice size 12, there wasn't much room left in his stomach for her. I feared he might only eat part of her, then leave her for dead!"


and the Three Bears'

Goldilocks (Calista Flockhart) goes hyper-Valley Girl and gets caught up in a "way cool real adventure." Lost in the woods, she skips breakfast and is starving so much (gee, ripped from the headlines much?) that she pulls a B&E (breaking and entering) at the bears' house. Papa Bear (Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf) is a tough guy who protects his home turf. But Mama Bear (Whoopi Goldberg), sporting a New Yawk accent, steals the show. Coming back from their morning walk, she's particularly upset by BB's (Conan O'Brien's baby bear) broken chair. Other indications of an intruder unnerve the family until they discover Goldilocks, who hightails it out of the house.

Character of Cosentina Molly "Mama" Bear

written by Whoopi Goldberg

"Straightening the bed is just something I can't stand to do. I'm all about comfortable chaos. My things were in standard hurricane condition when I left, but now my sheets were neat, the pillows fluffed and the week's New York Times neatly stacked by the bed! ... The danger smell grew stronger as my eye caught the big lump on BB's bed. What was under there?!"


A hay delivery man (Kevin Kline) boasts to his king about his daughter's abilities, stretching the truth just a bit when he says she can spin straw into gold. The king (an appropriately regal Kelsey Grammer) puts her to the test. Rumplestiltskin (Mike Myers) is the deal-making gnome who works the spinning wheel (Jennifer Love Hewitt). He makes gold for Giselle, the farm girl (Gwyneth Paltrow), but in return demands her firstborn, Olivia (Pepsi-girl Hallie Eisenberg). Before Rumplestiltskin can take away the child, the brave and thuddingly dull prince (Nicolas Cage) comes to the rescue. Hurrah.

Character of Giselle written by Gwyneth Paltrow

"Heartbroken, I held Olivia close. I found comfort only in the thought of my husband, due to return from the hunt that evening. Perhaps our love could somehow overpower the little man's magic and ensure our baby would remain with us forever?!"

'The Frog Prince'

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